Archive for June, 2009

I must admit that today does not find me in the best of moods. If I were to be very “mindful” about the whole thing, it would have to boil down to my frustrations on wishing to find a Teacher to guide me a bit more skillfully on this path that I am on. However, seeing that this is my blog… I am going to take this time to bitch about it instead. I must admit, it feels good to let it all out sometimes.

Tonight in my Sangha marked yet another in a now long-running series of dharma talks that are really just self-help books wrapped in a bit of meditation and the occasional quote from some Buddhist text. I am just sick and tired of it. I am tired of looking around the room at every Buddhist meeting I go to and seeing that I am either the only guy, or one of two guys in attendance. I went to one group (not my Sangha) the other week ago and the lady leading the group spoke on how meditation can help us get healed from past rejection and hurts. I was one of two guys there, and the thing ended with about 20 middle-aged ladies crying on each other’s shoulders over how their dads were not there for them, someone was mean to them in high school, or over some marriage that fell apart. The whole thing ended in a sobbing, wet, group hug. I returned last week, hoping that it was a fluke, and it was none the better. I go to meditate at someone’s home and have to sit through a dharma talk by one of those mellow-voiced monks, smiling, sitting in front of some picture of a flower or something, and talking about the power or love and how beautiful we all are. Tonight in my Sangha was yet another (and they do this a lot) night where the lady reads from a self-help book written by some other lady about how meditation can help us all get over our fears…  fears of rejection, or failing, of being ugly, fat… whatever.

Books like: How Buddhism Can Help You Get Over Past Hurts. How Mindfulness Can Help You Lose Weight. How Meditation Can Heal Past Family Wounds. How Buddhism Can Heal the Wounds of Daddy Not Being There Enough. How Meditation Can Help You Get Over Not Having A Prom Date.

Tonight the topics in the discussion ranged from how someone is afraid they are fat, or another that they are not as smart as their sister or another girl, how someone is afraid they are not as good looking as the next girl… Then, someone else mentioned how Truth sets us free, and used the example of how they are afraid that someone may be bad for them or hurt them, and that if they got over that fear and gave that person a chance… it would all work out and that person would wind up being nice, good, and good for them.

That was when I offered my own thoughts on the matter.

I said that Truth does set us free, but noted that all of their examples were warm and fuzzy, flowery, and that the Truth is not always that way. Truth is truth. Sometimes it is not flowers and sunshine. The Truth is that person who you are afraid of hurting you, may, in fact, hurt you. Or, to take the opposite position, you may be deluding yourself into thinking that someone is good for you when the Truth is that they are bad for you. The truth IS that you may be overweight, maybe that other person IS more attractive than you, and maybe your sister IS going to always score just a little bit higher than you on that test in school. So what? Really, so what? That truth is also liberating, and can set you free. Isn’t the point to embrace reality? Being trapped by irrational fears that are holding you back from enjoying real life is delusion. However, fooling yourself into thinking that life is a bed of roses all the time a delusion that holds you back as well. Embrace the reality of the situation, and then you can effectively deal with your shit.

Seriously, I think there has to be more “Suck-it-up-ness” and “Deal-with-it-ness” in the practice.

I then told a funny story from my own life to make the whole thing a bit more human and light-hearted.

When I was in High School I started to get into acting. My junior year I landed a key role in my first-ever play. On (and several days before) opening night I was petrified with fear that I would forget my lines and make a fool of myself–scared to death of it. So what happened?

Well, I forgot my lines.

Yup, totally froze, right up there on the stage, lights on me, in front of hundreds of people. Totally bombed, and forgot all my lines within the first few minutes of the first act. I was embarrassed, scared, horrified… but I somehow managed to fumble my way through the scene, exit the stage, and not freak out. Then all the sudden, this enormous sense of ease came all over me. Why? Well, that was my worst fear, and it just happened… and I am still standing… I am still ok. I lived. After that was over, the fear was gone, and I went through the rest of the performance without any problems. I did many a play and musical after that night, and never had that same crippling fear of forgetting a line again. It already happened; it sucked, but I got through it, and it no longer had a hold on me.

So there is truth in that as well. Maybe you have to face some fears. Maybe everything is not always ok. Maybe you need to lose some weight. Maybe you are not the brightest bulb in the bunch. Maybe that really bad thing you just don’t want to happen IS going to happen, and maybe you are going to have to learn to be OK regardless. Maybe you will soon learn that it really isn’t that big of a deal anyway.

So what is your worst fear? So what if it were actually realized? Really, so what?

P.S. I hope that this rant did not come across as my saying that what is wrong with Buddhism today is that we have too many females in charge. Not at all! I know some great “no nonsense” Buddhist ladies. Besides, most of those books I am complaining about having to listen to were written by men (eunuch’s?). But, I think this current movement of reducuing Buddhism to a non-religious self-help philosophy is sad, and that it has to go. I do wish that there were more strong males in the practice for me to relate with though. I had to do studies for churches (growth, lack of, and demographics) before where it was found out that teachings like this touchy-feely self-help crap will only drive most males away, and then when new ones come… they will leave after seeing that there are no men there to relate with. Then the vacuum continues.


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Am I wrong about what the Bodhisattva Vow is? Honestly, I can’t tell, because the answer changes from person to person, and each thing I read differs too much.

The basic answer that I get is that a bodhisattva is simply as person who has gained (or is seeking) enlightenment for the benefit of others–to help others. Some take a vow to remind themselves that it is for others over themselves, and that they will strive the rest of their lives (not rest) until all others reach the end of suffering as well. But, what does this mean? Does it mean that they themselves never reach Nirvana? That they die without reaching their own end to suffering? Does it mean that they still must be reborn? Or, like the Buddha, does it mean that they don’t just mentally “check-out” in some blissful state of Nirvana… sitting around in a cave contemplating their belly-button in bliss while the rest of the world is in pain? That they opt not to dwell in Nirvana, but to still function and go about daily lives teaching and helping people? Like the Buddha, do they still get to enter into this final bliss on their death?

I cannot get a straight answer, so I ask you all who may read this to let me know what you know on the subject. I would like to know if I am right or wrong on my latest ideas on the matter, which are clearly coming from a Theravada source and may be skewed.

Still though, if I am wrong about the reincarnation part, and the vow is not null without it… then again, isn’t it just a vow to not check-out and help people? If that is all that it is, then what really sets the vow apart from what the Theravada were already vowing to do in the first place as well? They already had a vow and coined the term bodhisattva as one who is enlightened to help others.


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Reincarnation is on my mind a lot these days; following a weekend retreat with Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and having studied various writings of Dogen, and the Soto Zen sect; where it is quite obvious that in traditional Zen a faith in reincarnation was considered an essential, fundamental belief of their Zen practice. Now, I can understand why it would mean something to the Theravada, but it took me a while to relate the necessity of the belief to the Mahayana.

One thing that struck me was the whole point behind the Bodhisattva Vow. I did my research, and despite whatever your modern-day Zen teacher may tell you, the whole vow centers around reincarnation. In fact, the vow is pointless without it.

Both the Theravada and the Mahayana believe in Right Action, compassion, kindness… your general do-gooding. To the Theravada it was just expected—it is expected that as a Buddhist, monk, enlightened being, you will become more compassionate towards others. The Mahayana took the whole thing a step further and stated that they were going to take a vow that although they will reach enlightenment, they will not let themselves reach the point where they become Non-Returners. Non-Returning being the point where if they die they will reach Nirvana, instead of continuing in the cycle of rebirth. The goal is to purposefully deny Nirvana (although enlightened) so that they may be reborn as a human being (or bodhisattva) again and again, in order to help others find the Way as well.

Cool concept. I can understand it. However, it makes no sense to take such a vow if you are a modern-day Mahayanan who shuns the concept of reincarnation. I cannot think of one Zen practitioner that I know, or have met, who believes in reincarnation, but some of them have taken the vow, and others believe in it—that it puts them above the Theravada. I also know some Zen monks and priests who say that they do not believe in reincarnation either, but they flaunt the vow.

Think about it though.

The whole point of the vow is that even though you hit enlightenment you vow to not become a Non-Returner (as in, this being your last life), but IF you do not believe in reincarnation, then are you not a Non-Returner anyway? This life being your last (and only life). It’s a moot point.

If there is no reincarnation then this is your last life, you ARE a Non-Returner anyway, so a vow to deny yourself rebirth is pointless. And if you are denying yourself some certain level of enlightenment to fulfill the vow, but do not believe in reincarnation anyway, then it was all for nothing.

Tonight I had the chance to bring this up to some elders in the Zen community and they said that they cannot deny that this was the initial purpose of the vow. They then added though, that although they do not believe in reincarnation, they feel that the vow is just a really good metaphor, or reminder that they have to be loving, kind, compassionate, and put the needs of others above themselves.

I asked them though, “So to boil it down some… you are all basically promising to be really, really, cool to people?” That is what the vow means to you now?

Look, I don’t know where I am going with this, but personally… if there was such a thing as full-enlightenment in my reach I would like to experience that. If the only thing stopping me from doing so was some vow concerning reincarnation, and I don’t believe in reincarnation, then why would that stop me either?

It is obvious that reincarnation is a fundamental to both traditions, and to say otherwise is just self-denial. If we are going to do away with it, in our Westernization of the practice, then fine… but then we should do away with all of it… vows included.

On the other hand, I am not saying that there is no reincarnation. I don’t know. I am undecided. I do know though that what we seem to be preaching these days is pretty darn inconsistent. I could drive a bus through some of these holes.

Today a Mahayana told me that what seperated them from the Theravada was the Bodhisattva vow, but then that they did not believe in reincarnation anway–then admitting that really it was just a vow reminding them to be good to people. Do we really believe that nowhere in the 43 volumes of the Pail Canon do they have verses telling them to be nice to people? Really? Come on. Of course they do.


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Dharma Talk: Monday, June 22nd 2009
Subject: Dualities

Tonight we are going to be speaking about the concept of Dualities in Buddhism, and hopefully begin to see that there can be a marriage between Mahayahan and Theravadan thought on the matter. Since I am the most familiar with the writings of Zen Master Dogen and the early Pali Canon, I will be reading selected writings from both of these schools of thought tonight.

One of my favorite quotes from Dogen that address duality from a Zen perspective is as follows,

“To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others. — Dogen ” — The Manifestation of the Koan, Shobo-genzo

Another for our topic, is from the Shusho-gi.

For those interested in history, the Shusho-gi was actually compiled about 600 years after Dogen’s death, but is still considered to a Zen writing of upmost importance. What is most important about the Shusho-gi is not found within its content, but rather, is in its intent. Its content is basic, a rudimentary summary of Dogen’s larger work (the Shobogenzo), but they reason why it was produced is in and of itself extraordinary. Certain Zen monks and Masters in Japan began teaching the practice to commoners, to those outside of the monasteries, and began encouraging regular people to take up a home practice. They also began to treat these lay workers as valid members of their Buddhist community, and exalted the role and position of lay-workers in the practice. When some other Buddhist sects in the region began to scorn this idea, calling it “farmer zen” they called out for them to correct this “mistake” of taking Buddhism outside of the monasteries. Now, how did these Zen leaders respond? Instead of shying away from it, they opted to start producing reading materials and teachings that they commoners could understand and that they could take home with them to read, outside of the libraries of the monasteries which were normally off-limits to the common people. They decided to officially open the practice up to and embrace the lay-worker and the non-monk Buddhist.

The following is taken from the first chapter of the Susho-gi,

“The thorough understanding of what enlightenment and delusion is—this is the most important question facing all Buddhists. If the Buddha lives both within enlightenment delusion, then where does delusion exist? Simply understand that enlightenment and delusion are both in themselves Nirvana; there being then, neither delusion to be hated nor Nirvana to be desired. Then, for the first time, you will be freed from enlightenment and delusion. Realize that this understanding is of the utmost importance.”

So, in keeping this text in mind, where is there not-Buddha? Where is there not Buddha-nature, the potential for enlightenment? If the Buddha is everywhere then the Buddha is in enlightenment, and in delusion. This being the case, is there really such a thing as delusion to hate, a body to hate, a mind to hate? This being the case, is there really such a thing as enlightenment to love, to attain, to strive for? Somewhere and somehow being freed from this concept of duality brings a freedom that is part of the enlightenment experience itself.

But how can this non-duality in any way come to terms with earlier Buddhist writings that appear to be so dualistic in nature?

If, to study the self is to forget the self, then a study of the self is necessary before one can move on to the forgetting of oneself. I must know before one can forget. We, as human beings, cannot simply start at the point of non-self, non-dualities, non-thought, non-striving. To start at the end is impossible for most; instead we start at the beginning. The beginning is to meditate, still the mind, live a contemplative life, and study the self thoroughly. We see which thoughts, desires, emotions, actions arise and we inspect them—continually letting go and further refining the process until it becomes less and less.

This check, comparison, introspection, and effort may seem like striving or grasping to us… and it is. However, it is “skillful grasping”. It is a sort of grasping that is necessary for the study of self that moves us skillfully along the path, until we are able quiet ourselves to the point of this effort no longer being necessary. It is a vehicle that we use to cross over, and then must know when to let go of, or maybe that just naturally happens?

If we are to constantly study and know the self so that we may forget the self, then what do we compare the self against? There are times in which we know our good intent and our bad intent, but there are other times that a deluded mind is unable to know the difference between delusion and truth. So what do we do in these cases? What do we take refuge in? We take refuge in the Buddha. We take refuge in the Sangha. We take refuge in the Dharma (Buddhist scriptures).

When checking ourselves as deluded or contemplative, we need additional insight and a standard by which to measure ourselves against. We need a Sangha that can offer us advice; we need a Master that we can trust to give us proper insight, and we also have a vast resource available to us of Buddhist scriptures that we can use to help us see the difference between deluded self and non-deluded self.

Keep in mind though, that in both Zen and in Theravada practices this is a vehicle to use towards forgetting self. We use duality skillfully so that one day we can move past these dualities.

To end this part of the discussion I am now going to give a reading from the first chapter of the Dhammapada—one of the oldest texts available to us in Buddhist literature. For those unfamiliar with the Dhammapada, think of it as a book of Buddhist Proverbs—a collection of wise sayings attributed to the Buddha. Many modern Buddhists consider the Dhammapada to be a bit “old-school” since it deals mostly with proper ethics for a follower of the Way, but I believe that it is still an important text that may be grossly misunderstood today due to its translation, and due to our misunderstanding on how the perceived duality here does come to an end—that the end-goal is still the surpassing of these dualities. I believe that it can be a useful tool to use in the studying of ourselves to forget ourselves, and in studying the Way so that we can forget the Way.

Translation by The New Heretics

(1) As one thinks, so one acts. All that we do is led by our minds, and is made by our minds. If one speaks or acts with suffering in their mind, suffering follows, as the wheels of a wagon follow the horse that pulls it.

(2) As one thinks, so one acts. All that we do is led by our minds, and is made by our minds. If one speaks or acts with a tranquil mind, happiness follows, as a shadow follows a traveler on a sunny day.

(3) “I was hurt, I was mistreated, I was defeated, I was wronged!” For those who cannot let go of such things, their pain will never cease.

(4) “I was hurt, I was mistreated, I was defeated, I was wronged!” For those who learn to let go of such things, their pain ceases.

(5) For harboring hatred for those who hurt you does not get rid of pain, it only adds to it. Suffering can only be ended by non-suffering; the cycle must be broken with kindness. This is an ancient truth.

(6) Most do not live in the realization that life is short. For those who fully realize this, quarrels become unimportant.

(7) One who lives for seeking out pleasures, is over-indulgent, uncontrolled, unrestrained, full of laziness and apathy, is easily broken by hard-times and temptation, just as a little wind can easily break a weak and hollow tree.

(8) One who does not live seeking out pleasures, is moderate, controlled, restrained, not afraid of hard work and devout, cannot be easily broken by hard-times and temptation, just as a great wind cannot move a mountain.

(9) The robe does not make the monk. If the one wearing the robe lacks self-control and honesty, they are unworthy of such a robe.

(10) The monk makes the robe. If the one wearing the robe has self-control, honesty, is well established in our virtues, they are worthy of such a robe.

(11) Those who consider the unimportant things in life to be important and the truly important as unimportant will never find that which is important, for they were looking in the wrong place all along.

(12) However, those who correctly see the important as important and the unimportant as unimportant will find the important, knowing where to begin looking for it.

(13) Were you lazy when you built your house, or diligent? As rain will still find a way through a poorly-made roof, corrupting the house, so Want will find its way into an unreflective mind.

(14) Were you lazy when you built your house, or diligent? As rain cannot find a way through a well-made roof, and into the house, so Want cannot find its way into a well-reflective mind.

(15) For those who do wrong to others it will only end in grief, grief in the present, grief in the future. In both states there is grief; from seeing the suffering that they have caused, from having to live with what they have done.

(16) For those who do well to others there is much rejoicing, rejoicing in the present, rejoicing in the future. In both states there is joy; seeing one’s own pure acts bear fruit brings joy and delight.

(17) Those who do wrong suffer in the present, suffer in the future. In both states there is suffering. Tormented today by the thought, “I have done wrong”, tormented tomorrow, by falling into the cycle of suffering.

(18) Those who do well to others delight in the present, delight in the future. In both states there is delight. Here they are delighted knowing, “I have treated others well”, and tomorrow, in entering the cycle of bliss.

(19) One, who studies the teachings, memorizes them, quotes them often but, doesn’t do what they say, is like a banker, surrounded by other people’s wealth, counting it as their own, deluding themselves into thinking that they are now rich. Such a person does not gain any real benefit from their studies.

(20) One, who knows little, but still lives according to the Dharma, free of grasping, hate, and delusions; aware of the Four Noble Truths, not clinging to this life or the next, such a person, will gain the benefits of the contemplative life.


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I would like to propose that what is the important about the Shusho-gi is not found within its content, but rather, is in its intent. Its content is basic, a rudimentary summary of Dogen’s larger work (the Shobogenzo)–maybe even a poor one at that, but they reason why it was produced is in and of itself extraordinary. We are talking about a time and a practice where in order to be a true follower of the Way (or Buddhism) one was expected to take on the vows and training of a monk and live a monastic lifestyle. It was not for the common-people, and there was a bit of a monopoly going on where only those of wealth or noble birth were really “making it” into the higher ranks of the religion. Yes there were exceptions, but it was not the norm.

Soto Zen monks and Masters began teaching the practice to commoners, to those outside of the monasteries, and began encouraging regular people to take up a home practice. They also began to treat these lay workers as valid members of their Buddhist community. When the other Buddhist sects in the region took notice of this they began to scorn the Soto Priests, calling it “farmer zen” and calling out for them to correct the mistake of taking Buddhism outside of the walls of the monasteriesand into the streets. Now, how did the Soto Zen leaders respond? How did they respond to the scorn and the ridicule? They decided to embrace the lay-worker, they decided to validate the commoner and the home-practice. Instead of shying away from it, they opted to start producing reading materials and teachings that they commoners could understand and that they could take home with them to read, outside of the libraries of the monasteries which were normally off-limits to the common people. They decided to officially open the practice up to and embrace the lay-worker and the non-monk Buddhist.

Do I like or agree with everything in the Shusho-gi? No. I know that they were trying to unify all the different people in the Soto school with a standard set of teaching that they all could agree on. I know that they had spread so much and had allowed so many people to teach and practice outside of the monasteries that they were trying to re-establish a common set of beliefs. I also know that there was some pressure to do so from the government at the time. As a Westerner, some of it seems a bit dated or foreign to me (like the references to reincarnation and so-forth), but this does not change for me how wonderful and important the intent of the document was. This does not change the fact that, although it was not the birth of the lay-monk in Japan, it was the beginning of fully embracing and validating it, of making it an official part of the practice and of Zen.


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(The Meaning of Practice-Enlightenment)
New English Paraphrased Translation

By the late 1800’s a revolution had taken place in Japanese Zen—The Soto Zen practice had spread outside of the monasteries, becoming the popular home-practice of most of the commoners in the region. Many of the other schools of Japanese Buddhism, thinking Zen to be a thing for monks alone, not commoners, began referring to Soto as “farmer Zen” (as  derogatory term) due to its mass appeal. In 1888, an editor of Buddhist books and a devout Zen practitioner published the very first version of the Shusho-gi in the hopes of putting concise and highly readable literature into the hands of the lay workers; since up until this time most teaching resources were for monastery monks only. The idea of taking passages from Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo and regrouping them in order to offer a simple, basic but authentic digest of the Soto Zen teaching was so successful with lay practitioners that the Zenjis of both founding temples, Takushu Takiya Zenji for Eiheiji and Baisen Azegami Zenji for Sojiji, decided to take up the idea and rework it, thus creating the definitive version of the Shusho-gi that we have today. This reworking also served to further unify the Soto school in teaching and in, clarifying its official representation and a shared core of teaching to its ever-growing and diverse community.

1. General Introduction

The thorough understanding of what birth and death is—this is the most important question facing all Buddhists. If the Buddha lives both within birth (enlightenment) and death (delusion), then death (delusion) does not exist. Simply understand that birth and death are in themselves Nirvana; there being neither birth-death to be hated nor Nirvana to be desired. Then, for the first time, you will be freed from birth and death. Realize that this understanding is of the utmost importance.

It is rare to be born as a human being, and even more rare to find Buddhism in this lifetime. It is because of our good merit in the past that we have been able not only to be born as human beings but to encounter Buddhism as well. Within the realm of birth-death, enlightenment and delusion, then, our present life should be considered to be the best and most excellent gift of all. There is a purpose for your human body, do not waste it meaninglessly, being tossed to and fro by the winds of impermanence.

Impermanence can never be relied upon. We don’t know when or where this transient life will end. What happens to this body is already beyond our control; and life, is at the mercy of time, moving on without stopping for even an instant. Once the face of your youth has disappeared, it is impossible to find even its traces. When we think about time carefully, we see that time, once lost, never returns. When you are suddenly faced with the prospect of death, kings, state ministers, relatives, servants, spouse, and children, and all the money in the world are of no use. We all enter the realm of death alone, bringing nothing with us except our good and bad karma. You should avoid associating with deluded people in the present world who are ignorant of the law of causality and karmic retribution. They are unaware of the three stages of time and unable to distinguish right from wrong.

The law of causality is clear and impersonal: those who do harm inevitably fall; those who do good inevitably ascend. If this were not true, the various Buddhas would not have appeared in this world, nor would Bodhidharma have come to China. Karmic retribution occurs at three different periods of time: 1. In one’s present life; 2. In one’s next life; 3. In one’s subsequent lives. This is the first thing that needs to be studied and understood when practicing the Way. Otherwise many of you will make mistakes and come to hold wrong views. Not only that, but you may also fall into evil worlds, undergoing long periods of suffering. Understand that in this life you have only one life, not two or three. How regrettable it would be if not knowing the truth—thinking that you are not doing wrong, when, in fact you are. You cannot avoid the karmic retribution of your evil acts even if you did not know any better; even if you don’t recognize karma’s existence you subject to it.

2. Release through Repentence

The Buddhas and patriarchs, because of their great mercy, have gone before us—opening up a vast gate of compassion so that all beings—both human and celestial alike—may realize enlightenment. Although karmic retribution for harmful acts must, repentance lessens the effects, bringing release and purification. Therefore, let us repent in all sincerity. The power of repentance not only saves and purifies us; it also encourages growth within us of pure, doubt-free faith and earnest effort. When pure faith appears it changes others just as it changes us, its benefits extend to all things, both animate and inanimate.

The following contains the essence of the act of repentance: “Even though the accumulation of our past bad karma is so great that it forms an obstacle to practicing the Way. We beseech the various enlightened and compassionate Buddhas and Ancestors to free us from karmic retribution, eliminate all obstacles to the practice of the Way, and share with us their compassion, for it is through this compassion that their merit and teachings fill the entire universe. In the past the Buddhas and Ancestors were originally just like us; in the future we shall become like them. All our past evil deeds were the result of beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance: products of our body, speech, and mind. Of all these do we now repent.”

If we repent in this way, we will certainly receive the help of the Buddhas and patriarchs. Keeping this in mind and acting in this proper manner, make your repentance. The power of repentance can wipe out your wrongdoings at their roots.

3. Ordination and Enlightenment

Next, you should deeply revere the Three Treasures. They deserve our reverence and respect no matter what changes happen in our lives or to our bodies. The Buddhas and patriarchs in both India and China, and various other countries, correctly transmitted to us the knowledge of the need for reverence for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

The unfortunate and the immoral are unable to even hear the names (comprehend) of the Three Treasures, let alone take refuge in them. Do not act like those who vainly take refuge in gods and ghosts or worship at non-Buddhist shrines, for it is impossible to gain release from suffering in this way. Instead, quickly take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—seeking not only release from suffering but complete enlightenment as well.

Firstly, taking refuge in the Three Treasures means to come with a pure faith. Whether during the Gautama Buddha’s lifetime or after it, people should place their hands together in gassho (praying hands, bow), and with lowered heads recite the following: “We take refuge in the Buddha. We take refuge in the Dharma, We take refuge in the Sangha. We take refuge in the Buddha because the Buddha is our great teacher. We take refuge in the Dharma because it is good medicine. We take refuge in the Sangha because it is composed of excellent friends.”

It is only by taking refuge in the Three Treasures that one can become a disciple of the Buddha and become qualified to receive all the other precepts. The merit of having taken refuge in the Three Treasures inevitably appears when there is spiritual communion between the trainee and the Buddha. Those who experience this communion inevitably take this refuge whether they find themselves existing as celestial or human beings, dwellers in hell, hungry ghosts, or animals. As a result, the merit that is accumulated thereby inevitably increases through the various realms of existence, leading to the highest supreme enlightenment. Know that the Buddha has already given witness to the fact that this merit is of unsurpassed value and unfathomable profundity. Therefore all sentient beings should take this refuge.

Next, we should receive the Three Pure Precepts. The first of them is to refrain from all evil, the second is to do good, and the third is to keep the mind pure. We should then accept the Ten Grave Prohibitions: 1. Do not kill. 2. Do not steal. 3. Do not engage in improper sexual conduct. 4. Do not lie. 5. Do not indulge in intoxicating substances. 6. Do not speak of the faults of others. 7. Do not be too proud to praise others. 8. Do not covet. 9. Do not give way to anger. 10. Do not disparage the Three Treasures.

All Buddhas have received and observed the Three Refuges, the Three Pure Precepts, and the Ten Grave Prohibitions. By receiving these precepts one realizes the supreme Bodhi-wisdom, the unbreakable metal, the indestructible enlightenment of all the Buddhas in the three stages of time. Is there any wise person who would not gladly seek this goal? The Buddha has clearly shown to all sentient beings that when they receive the precepts, they enter into the realm of the Buddhas—truly becoming their children and realizing the same enlightenment. All the Buddhas dwell in this realm, perceiving everything clearly without leaving any traces. When ordinary beings make this their dwelling place, they no longer distinguish between subject and object. At that time everything in the universe –whether earth, grass, tree, fence, tile, pebble—functions as a manifestation of enlightenment; and those who receive the effects of this manifestation realize enlightenment without being aware of it. This is the merit of Nirvana, the merit of non-discrimination, and awakening to the Bodhi-mind.

4. Making the Altruistic Vow

To awaken to the Bodhi-mind means to vow not to cross over to the other shore before all sentient beings have found the Way. Every layperson, nun or monk, living in the world of celestial beings or of humans, subject to pain or pleasure, all should quickly make this vow. Even if they be a person of humble appearance, any person who has awakened to the Bodhi-mind is already the teacher to all mankind. A little girl of the age of seven can become the teacher of the four classes of Buddhists and the compassionate mother of all beings; for in Buddhism men and women are equal. This is one of the highest principles of the Way. After having awakened to the Bodhi-mind, even wandering in the six realms of existence and the four forms of life becomes an opportunity to practice the altruistic vow. Even though up to now you may have wasted your time in vain, you should quickly make this vow while there is still time. Though you have acquired sufficient merit to realize Buddhahood, you should place it at the disposal of all beings in order that they may realize the Way. From time beginning there have been those who have sacrificed their own enlightenment in order that they might be of benefit to all beings, helping them to cross over first to the other shore.

There are four kinds of wisdom that benefit others: Offerings, Loving words, Benevolence, and Identification, all of which are the practices of a Bodhisattva. Giving offerings means not to covet. Although it is true that, in essence, nothing belongs to self, this should not prevent us from giving offerings. The size of the offering is not the point; it is the sincerity with which it is given that is important. Therefore, even if one has nothing, one should be willing to give even a single verse or a phrase from the Dharma, for it becomes a seed of good in both present life and future life. This is also the case when giving of ones material posessions, whether it be a single coin or a blade of grass, for the Dharma is the treasure and the treasure is the Dharma. There have been those who, seeking no reward, willingly gave their help to others. Supplying a ferry and building a bridge are both acts of giving offerings as are earning a living and producing goods.

The meaning of loving words is that which comes from seeing that you and all beings are one—filled with compassion for them, talking with them affectionately. You could also say, one regards them as if they were ones own children. When full of Loving words the virtuous will be praised and the virtueless will be shown mercy. Loving words are the source of overcoming your bitter enemy’s hatred and establishing friendship with others. Directly hearing loving words spoken brightens the countenance and warms the heart. An even deeper impression is made, however, by hearing about loving words spoken about oneself in ones absence. You should know that loving words have a life-changing impact on others.

Benevolence means to purposefully come up with ways of benefiting others, no matter what their social position. Those who aided a helpless turtle or and injured sparrow do not expect any reward for their assistance; they simply acted out of their feelings of benevolence. The foolish believe that their own interests will suffer if they put the benefit of others first. They are wrong however. Benevolence is all-encompassing equally benefiting oneself and others.

Identification means nondifferentiation— to make no distinction between oneself and others. For example, Gautama Buddha led the same life as that of all other human beings. Others can be identified with self, and thereafter, self with others. With the passage of time both self and others become one. Identification is like the sea, which does not decline any water no matter what its source, all waters gathering, therefore, to form the sea.

Quietly reflect on the fact that the preceding teachings are the practices of a Bodhisattva. Do not treat them light. Honor and respect their merit, which is able to save all beings, enabling them to cross over to the other shore.

5. Constant Practice and Gratitude

The opportunity to awaken to the Bodhi-mind is reserved only for human beings living in this world. Now that we have had the good fortune not only to be born in this world but also to come into contact with Gautama Buddha, how can we be anything but overjoyed!

Quietly consider the fact that if this were a time when the true Dharma had not yet spread throughout the world, it would not have been possible for us to come into contact with it, even if we were willing to sacrifice our lives to do so. How fortunate to have been born in the present day, when we are able to find and hear the Dharma. Listen to what the Buddha said: “When you meet a master who expounds the supreme Bodhi-wisdom, do not consider the masters birth, look at the master’s appearance, dislike the master’s faults, or worry about the master’s behavior. Rather, out of respect for the master’s great wisdom, kneel before the master reverently three times a day— morning, noon, and evening–giving the master no cause for worry.”

We are now able to come into contact with the Buddha and hear the Dharma due to the compassionate kindness that has resulted from the constant practice of all the Buddhas and patriarchs. If the Buddhas and patriarchs had not directly transmitted the Dharma, how could it have come down to us today? We should be grateful for even a single phrase or portion of the Dharma, still more for the great benefit accruing from the highest supreme teaching— Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma (the Shobogenzo). The injured sparrow does never forget the kindness shown to it. If even animals show their gratitude for kindness rendered to them, how can human beings fail to do the same? The true way of expressing this gratitude is not to be found in anything other than our daily Buddhist practice itself. That is to say, we should practice selflessly, esteeming each day of life.

Time flies faster than an arrow: life is more transient than the dew. No matter how skillful you may be, it is impossible to bring back even a single day of the past. To have lived to be a hundred years old to no purpose is to eat of the bitter fruit of time, to become a pitiable bag of bones for nothing. Even though you have allowed yourself to be a slave to your senses for a hundred years, if you give yourself over to Buddhist training for even one day, you will gain a hundred years of life in the present life as well as in future life. Each day’s life should be esteemed; the body should be respected. It is because of our body and mind that we are even able to practice the Way and find enlightenment; that is why they should be loved and respected. It is through our own practice that the practice of all the Buddhas appears and their way teaches us. Therefore each day of our practice is the same as theirs, the seed of realizing Buddhahood. All the various Buddhas are none other than the first Buddha. The Buddha is nothing other than the fact that the mind itself is the Buddha. When the Buddhas of the past, present, and future realize enlightenment, they never fail to become the first Buddha. This is the meaning of the mind itself being the Buddha. Study this question carefully, for it is in this way that you can express your gratitude to the Buddhas.


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Gakudo Yojin-shu
(Things to look out for in your Buddhist training)
By Zen Master Dōgen
Original Translation by Yuho Yokoi, New English Paraphrased Translation by The New Heretics

This short, independent work of Dōgen was written for his disciples in 1234 CE, seven years after his return from China. Although it can be said that the content of Dōgen’s Shobogenzo is more profound philosophically, the Gakudo Yojin-shu has become highly esteemed as an essential training guide by the Sōtō Zen sect of Buddhism, as well as many others Zen practitioners. For those studying or practicing the Way this particular work of Dōgen deserves a regular and repeated reading, in conjunction with the deepening of one’s own daily practice; for although it may be relatively short in length, within it is nothing short than the blueprint to Zen and enlightenment.

I. The Need to Awaken to the Bodhi-Mind

The Bodhi-mind is known by many names, but they all point to the One Mind of the Buddha. As Nagarjuna said, “The mind that sees into the flux of arising and decaying and recognizes the transient nature of the world is also known as the Bodhi-mind.” Why, or how, then, can we call this transient mind Bodhi-mind? When the transient nature of this world is finally recognized, the ordinary selfish mind ceases to arise; as well as the mind that seeks after its own fame and profit – this is Bodhi-mind.

Aware that time is short, train as though you were attempting to save your own life—saving your head from being engulfed in flames. Mindful of the transient nature of this body and of life, exert yourself just even as the founder of Buddhism Gautama Buddha had to.

Even though you hear the enticing songs of the Siren or of the Angel’s themselves, pay them no mind, do not let them distract you, regarding them as merely an evening breeze blowing in your ears. Even though you see a face as beautiful as a goddess or of the Angel’s themselves, think of them as merely the morning sleep in your eyes that needs to be wiped away, clearing your  blocked vision.

When freed from the bondage of sound, color, and shape, you will naturally become one with true Bodhi-mind. Since ancient times there has been very few have seen this true Buddhism, and few who heard the scriptures. Not knowing true Buddhism, most have fallen, into pitfalls like fame and profit, losing the essence of the Way. What a pity! How regrettable!

Understand this well: even though you have read the true teachings of the scriptures or received the transmission of the esoteric and exoteric, unless you forsake fame and profit you cannot be said to have awakened, to have the Bodhi-mind.

There are some who say that the Bodhi-mind is the highest state of enlightenment, free from fame and profit. Others say that it is that which embraces the one billion worlds in a single moment of thought, or that it is the teaching that not a single delusion can arise from. Still others, that it is the mind which has entered directly into the realm of the Buddha. Those who say that they are followers of the Way, but have no understanding of Bodhi-mind wantonly slander it. They are indeed far from the Way.

Reflect on your ordinary mind, how selfishly it is attached to fame and profit. Is it endowed with the essence and appearance of the three thousand worlds in a single moment of thought? Has it experienced the teaching in which not a single delusion arises? No, there is nothing there but the delusion of fame and profit, nothing worthy of being called the Bodhi-mind.

Although there have been patriarchs since ancient times who have used unorthodox or even secular means to realize their enlightenment, not one of them were attached to fame and profit. They did not let themselves become attached to even Buddhism itself, let alone to such ordinary and common things of this world.

The Bodhi-mind is, as mentioned before, that which recognizes the transient nature of the world—one of the four insights. It is totally different from that referred to by madmen passing themselves off as knowing what Bodhi-mind is.

The non-arising mind and the appearance of the one billion worlds are fine things to practice after having awakened to the Bodhi-mind. Do not confuse the “before” with the “after”. Simply forget the self and quietly practice the Way. This is truly the Bodhi-mind.

The sixty-two viewpoints are all based on self; so when ego arises with its views simply do zazen and quietly observe them. What is the basis of your body, your inner and your outer possessions? You received your body, hair, and skin from your parents. You were made of your parents, all that you have your have received, there is no self here. Mind, discriminating consciousness, knowledge, and dualistic thought bind life. What, ultimately, is breathing—inhaling and exhaling? They are not self. There is no self to be attached to. The deluded, however, are still attached to self, while the enlightened are no longer. But still you seek to measure the self that is no self, and attach yourselves to arisings that are non-arisings, neglecting to practice the Way. By failing to cut off your ties to this world, you turn your back on the true teaching and run to embrace the false. How dare you say you are not demonstrating poor judgment?

II. The Need for Training upon Encountering the True Law

A king’s mind sometimes changes due to the good advice given by an advisor. If the Buddha and patriarchs offer even a single word to someone, that someone could help but to be converted. Only wise kings, however, listen to the advice given to them by others, and only good trainees of the Way hear the Buddha’s words being spoken to them.

It is impossible to sever the source of transmigration without casting away the delusions in our minds. In the same way, in a king fails to listen to the advice of advisors, good and just policies will never be made, and the country will not be governed well.

III. The Need to Realize the Way through Constant Training

Lay people believe that government office can be acquired as a result of hard work and study. Gautama Buddha teaches that training encompasses enlightenment. I have never heard of anyone who became a government official without study, and I have never heard of anyone realizing enlightenment without training.

Although it is true that different training methods exist—some based on faith or the Law, the sudden or the gradual realization of enlightenment—still one always realizes enlightenment as a result of training. In the same way, although the depth or people’s learning differs, as does their speed on comprehension, government office is acquired through accumulated work and study. None of these things depends on who is superior or not, or whether one’s luck is good or bad.

If government office could be acquired without study, who could transmit the method by which a former leader successfully ruled the nation? If enlightenment could be realized without training, who could understand the teaching of the Buddha, since it distinguishes the difference between delusion and enlightenment? Understand that even though you train in the world of delusion, enlightenment is already there. Then, for the first time, you will realize that boats and rafts (scriptures, sutras) are but yesterday’s dream and will be able to sever forever the old views that bound you to them.

The Buddha does not force this understanding on you. Rather it comes naturally from your own training in the Way, for training invites enlightenment. Your own treasure does not come from anything outside of you. Since enlightenment is the same as training, the action of enlightenment will leave no trace. Therefore, when looking back on your training with enlightened eyes, you will find that it all looks the same to you; there is no illusion to see, just as white clouds can cover an entire sky.

When enlightenment is harmonized with training, you cannot step on even a single spec of duct. Should you be able to do so, you are far removed from enlightenment—as far as heaven is removed from earth. If you return to your true Self, you can transcend all, even the status of the Buddha.

IV. The Need for Selfless Practice of the Way

In the practice of the Way it is necessary to accept the true teachings of our predecessors, setting aside our own preconceived notions. The Way cannot be realized with mind or without it. Unless the mind of constant practice is one with the Way, neither body nor mind will find peace. When the body and mind are not at peace, they become just another obstacle to finding enlightenment.

How are constant practice and the Way to be harmonized? To do so the mind must neither be attached to nor reject anything; it must be completely free from fame and profit. One does not undergo Buddhist training for the sake of others. The minds of Buddhist trainees, like those of most people these days, however, are far from understanding the Way. They do that which gains the praises of others, even though they know it to be false, to be delusion. On the other hand, they neglect to do that which others scorn even though they know it to be the truth, the true Way. How regrettable!

Reflect quietly on whether your mind and actions are one with Buddhism or not. If you do this, you will realize how shameful they are. The penetrating eyes of the Buddhas and patriarchs are constantly shining on the entire universe.

Since Buddhist trainees do not do anything for the sake of themselves, how could they do anything for the sake of fame or profit? You should train for the sake of Buddhism alone. The various Buddhas do not show deep compassion for all sentient beings for either their own or another’s sake. This is the tradition of Buddhism.

Even animals and insects are capable of giving to, caring for, and nurturing their young, enduring various hardships in the process – standing to gain nothing for their actions, even after their offspring have reached maturity. Even these small creatures, animals, are capable of deep compassion. How much more do the Buddhas have compassion for all sentient beings? The excellent teachings of the Buddhas are not even limited to compassion; rather, they appear in countless ways throughout the universe. This is the essence of Buddhism.

We are already the children of the Buddha; therefore we should follow in his footsteps. Trainees, do not practice Buddhism for your own benefit, for fame and profit, or for rewards or in seeking miracles and powers. Simply practice Buddhism for the sake of Buddhism; this is the true Way.

V. The Need to Seek a True Master

A former patriarch once said, “If the Bodhi-mind is untrue, all one’s training will come to nothing.” This saying is true indeed. In the same way, know that the quality of a disciple’s training depends on the quality of his master—on the truth or falsity of their enlightenment. The Buddhist trainee can be compared to a fine piece of timber, and a true master to a good carpenter. Even quality wood will not show its find grain unless it is worked on by a good carpenter. Even a poor piece of wood will, if handled by a good carpenter, soon show the results of good craftsmanship. The truth or falsity of one’s enlightenment depends on whether or not one has a true master. This should be well understood.

In our country, however, there have not been any true masters in a long time. We can tell this by looking at their words, just as you can tell the quality of a river by scooping up some if its water down-stream. For centuries, masters in this country have compiled books, taught disciples, and have led both human and celestial beings. Their words, however, were still green, unripe, for they had not yet reached maturity in their own training. They had not yet reached the sphere of enlightenment. Instead, they merely transmitted words and made others recite names and empty letters. Day and night they counted, were surrounded by, the treasure of knowledge of others, but they failed to gain anything for themselves.

These masters must be held accountable for this state of affairs. Some of them taught that enlightenment should be looked for outside of ourselves, outside of the mind; others that rebirth in the Pure Land was to be the goal. In this lies the source of some of your confusion and delusion about Buddhism.

Even if good medicine is given to someone, unless that person has also been given the proper directions for taking it matters may simply be made worse. In fact, it may harm you like taking poison if your take it without direction. There have not been any good doctors in our country who were capable of making the correct prescription or to properly distinguish between medicine and poison. For this reason it has been extremely difficult to eliminate life’s suffering and disease. How, then, can we expect to escape from the sufferings of old age and death?

This current situation is entirely the fault of the masters, not of the disciples. Why? Because they guide their disciples. They have taken care of the branches of the tree but have neglected, even destroyed its roots. Before they fully understand the Way themselves, they devote themselves to their own egotistic minds, luring others into the world of delusion. How regrettable is it that even these masters are un-aware of their own delusion. How can their disciples be expected to do any better?

Unfortunately, true Buddhism has not yet spread to this peripheral little country, and true masters have yet to be born. If you want to study the supreme Way, you would have to visit masters in faraway China, and reflect there on the true road that is far beyond the delusive mind. If you are unable to find a true master, it is best not to study Buddhism at all.

True masters are those who are fully realized and who have received the seal of a genuine master. It has nothing to do with their age. For them neither learning nor knowledge is of primary importance. Possessing extraordinary self-discipline and influence, they do not rely on selfish views or cling to any obsessions, for they have perfectly harmonized knowledge with practice. These are the characteristics of a true master.

VI. Advice for the Practice of Zen

The study of the Way through the practice of zazen is of vital importance. You should not neglect it or treat it lightly. In China there are legends (urban legend) of former Zen masters who even cut off their arms or fingers for the practice of zazen. Long ago Gautama Buddha renounced his home and the kingdom he would inherit—another fine example of how important the practice of the Way is. Men of the present day, however, say that one should only practice that which can be easily practiced. Know that their words are mistakes and that they are far removed from the Way. If you devote yourself to one thing exclusively and consider it to be training, even lying down can become tedious. If one thing becomes tedious, all things become tedious. You should know that those who like things easy are unworthy of the practice of the Way.

Our great teacher, Gautama Buddha, was unable to gain the teaching of the Way until he had undergone severe training and years of hardships. Consider how dedicated the founder of Buddhism was, can his students be any less so? Those who seek the Way should not look for easy training. Should you do so, you will never reach true enlightenment. Even the most gifted of the former patriarchs told us that they Way is difficult to practice. You need to realize how deep and immense Buddhism is.

If the Way were, originally, so easy to practice and understand, our former patriarchs would have not stressed to us so much how difficult it is. Compared to the former patriarchs, people of today do not amount to a single grain of sand on the seashore. That is to say, that modern people have added resources, materials, and years of former patriarchs to draw from; therefore, even if one today was to exert themselves to the utmost, their imagined difficult practice would still be nothing compared to that of the former patriarchs.

What is the easily practiced and easily understood teaching of which present-day people seem to be so fond? It is nothing. It is neither a great secular teaching nor a Buddhist one. Even a great secular teaching requires effort in practice. No, this easy practice is inferior—inferior even to those who still worship devils and evil spirits, as well inferior to any non-Buddhist religion and the two vehicles (those who strive for enlightenment but have no desire or compassion to help others–for selfish reasons alone). The promise of easy practice may be the greatest delusion out there for men and women. For, although they imaging that they have escaped the delusive world, they have, on the contrary, merely subjected themselves to a greater delusion, and endless transmigration.

Breaking one’s bones and crushing the marrow to be a Buddhist would seem like a difficult practice, would it not? It is still more difficult, however, to control the mind, let alone undergo prolonged meditation and real training–controlling one’s physical actions is the most difficult of all.

Gautama Buddha said, “Turning the sound-perceiving stream of the mind inward, forsake knowing and being known.” What does this mean? The two qualities of movement and nonmovement have not appeared at all; this is true harmony.

If it were possible to enter the Way on the basis of having a brilliant mind and a wide range of knowledge, high-ranking Shen-hsiu should have been able to do so. If common birth were an obstacle to entering the Way, then how did Hui-neng become one of the great Chinese patriarchs? Know from these and other examples that the process of transmitting the Way does not depend on either a brilliant mind or a noble birth. In seeking the Way, simply reflect on yourselves and train diligently.

Neither youth nor age are obsticles to entering the Way. Chao-chou was more than sixty years old when he first began to practice, yet he became an outstanding patriarch. Cheng’s daughter was only thirteen years old when she attained her deep understanding of the Way, so much so that she became one of the finest trainees in her monastery.

The majesty of Buddhism appears according to whether or not the effort is made, and differs according to whether or not training is involved.

Those who have long devoted themselves to the study of the sutras (scriptures), as well as those who are well versed in secular learning, should visit a Zen monastery. There are many examples of those who have done so. Hui-ssu of Mount Nan-yueh was a man of many talents, yet he still submitted himself to train under Bodhidharma. Hsuan-chueh of Mount Yung-chia was the finest of men; still he trained under Ta-chien. The understanding of the Law and the realization of the Way are dependent upon what you gain from training under Zen masters.

When visiting a Zen master to seek instruction, listen to his teaching without trying to make it conform to your own self-centered views; otherwise you will never be able to understand what they are saying. Purifying you own body and mind, eyes and ears, and simply listen to what is being said. Purifying you own body and mind, eyes and ears, and simply listen to the teaching, expelling any other thought. Unify your body and mind and receive the master’s teaching as though water is being poured from one jar into another. If you do so, you will be able to understand a master’s teaching, for the first time.

At present, there are some foolish people who devote themselves to memorizing the words and phrases of the sutras (scriptures) or they attach themselves to that which they have heard before. Having done this, they compare their “knowledge” with the teachings of a master. In this case though, there is no “knowledge” in their heads—only their own views on the words of old dead men. Because of this, the words of the master will be left unheard and not understood.

Others, attaching much importance to their own self-centered thinking, open up the scriptures and decide for themselves what it says, imagining this to be Buddhism. Later when they are taught by an enlightened Zen master, they only regard the master’s teaching as true if it corresponds with their own views on the matter; otherwise they regard it as false. Not knowing how to give up their mistaken way of thinking, they are unable to return to the true Way. They are to be pitied, for they will be subjected to delusion for an eternity. How regrettable!

Buddhist trainees should realize that Buddhism is beyond thought, beyond discrimination, beyond imagination, beyond insight, beyond perception, and intellectual understanding. If it were not so, then why is it that having been endowed with all these faculties since birth, you have still not realized the Way?

Thought, discrimination, and so on, should be avoided in the practice of the Way. This will become clear if using thought, and so on, you examine yourself carefully. The gateway to the Truth is known only to enlightened Zen masters, not to their learned counterparts.

VII. The Need for Zen Training in Buddhist Practice and Enlightenment

Buddhism is superior to any other teaching. It is for this reason that many people pursue it. During Gautama Buddha’s lifetime there was only one teaching and there was only one teacher (Buddha). The Great Master alone led all beings with his supreme Wisdom. Since then it has been passed down, unbroken, through twenty-eight generations in India, six generations in China, and to the various patriarchs of the five Zen schools who have transmitted it without interruption. Since 520 CE (the P’t-t’ung era) in the Chinese state of Liang all truly superior individuals—from monks to royals—have taken refuge in Zen Buddhism.

Truly, excellence should be loved because of its excellence. One should not love false dragons such as Yeh-kung; who spent his whole life carving and painting toy dragons, but when a real one finally appeared to him, he fainted, not knowing what to do. In the various countries east of China the net of scholastic-Buddhism has been casted over the seas and the mountains. It is spread over the mountains, but it does not contain the heart of the clouds; it is spread over the seas, but it lacks the heart of the waves. The foolish are fond of this false Buddhism. They are delighted by it like those who mistake a fish-eye for a pearl, or those who treasure a common stone, in the false belief that it is a precious jewel. Such people are only heading for a fall—into the pitfall of demons, losing their true Self.

The situation in remote countries like this one is truly regrettable; for here, where the winds of false teachings blows freely, it is hard to spread the true Law. China, however, has already taken refuge in the true Law of the Buddha. Why is it then that it has yet to spread to this country or to Korea? Although in Korea at least the true Law can be heard, in our country even this is impossible. This is because many of our teachers who went to study Buddhism clung to the net of scholastic-Buddhism. Although they successfully transmitted various Buddhist texts, they had forgotten the spirit of Buddhism. So of what value is this then? In the end it amounts to nothing. This all happened because they did not know what it means to study the Way. How regrettable it is that they worked so hard their whole lives, accomplishing nothing.

When you first begin to follow the path of Buddhism as a Bodhi-seeker and begin to study the Way, simply listen to the teaching of a Zen master and train accordingly. At this time you should know the following: that the Law can turn the self, and that the self can turn the Law. When the Law turns the self, the Law in you is strong and the self is weak. When the self turns the Law, the self in you is strong and the Law in you has become weak. Although Buddhism has known this truth since long ago, it can only be understood by those who have received a true transmission. Without a true master, it is impossible to hear even the names of these two aspects and understand them.

Unless one knows the essence of studying the Way, it is impossible to practice it; for how else can one determine what is right and what is wrong? Those who now study the Way through the practice of zazen naturally transmit this essence. This is why there have been no mistakes made in the transmission, something that cannot be said of the other Buddhist sects. Those who seek Buddhism cannot realize the true Way without zazen.

VIII. The Conduct of Zen Monks

Since the time of the Buddha the twenty-eight patriarchs in India and the six in China have directly transmitted the true Law, adding nothing new to it, not even as much as a thread or hair, nor allowing anything to corrupt it, not even a single particle of dust. With the transmission from the Buddha to Hui-neng, Buddhism spread throughout the world. Right now Buddha’s Law is flourishing in China. It is impossible to know what the Law is by blindly searching for it in the dark. Those who have seen the Way forget the Way, transcending relative consciousness.

Hui-neng lost his deluded self while training on the mountain. Hui-k’o showed his earnestness by cutting off his arm in front of Bodhidharma’s cave, realizing through this action his delusion and finding enlightenment. After this he prostrated himself before Bodhidharma, in thanks for being returned to his former Self—finding absolute freedom, dwelling in neither body nor mind, unattached and unlimited.

A monk once asked Chao-chou, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” Chao-chou replied, “Wu.” This word wu cannot be measured or grasped, for there is nothing to it to grab a hold of. I suggest that you try letting go! Then ask yourself these questions: What are body and mind? What is Zen conduct? What are birth and death? What is Buddhism? What is secular (worldly affairs)? And what, ultimately, are mountains, rivers, and earth—or men, animals, and houses?

If you continue to ask these questions, the two aspects—movement and non-movement—will clearly not appear. This non-appearance, however, does not mean inflexibility. Ultimately very few people realize this, while many are deluded by it. Zen trainees can realize this after they have trained for some time. It is my sincere hope, however, that you never stop training—even after you become fully enlightened.

IX. The Need to Practice in Accordance with the Way

Buddhist trainees should first take time to determine if their practice is headed towards the Way or not. Gautama Buddha was able to harmonize and control his entire body, speech, mind, and sat beneath a tree doing zazen. Upon seeing the morning star, he became enlightened, realizing the highest Way, which is far beyond that of the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas (two vehicles). The enlightenment that the Buddha realized came from his own efforts, and has been transmitted from Buddha to Buddha without interruption to this very day. How, then, can those who have realized this enlightenment not be Buddhas? To be headed toward the Way is to know its appearance and how far it extends. The Way lies under the foot of every human. When you become one with the Way you find that it is right where you are, then realizing perfect enlightenment. If, however, you take pride in your enlightenment, even though it may feel quite deep, it will be no more than a mere partial enlightenment. These are the essential elements of being headed towards the Way.

Present-day trainees strongly desire to see supernatural things, even though do not understand how the Way functions. Who of these is not gravely mistaken? They are like a child who has a very wealthy father but forsakes him to run away from home and find riches somewhere else where they are not. Even though his father is rich, and they, as an only child, would inherit it all, they live as a beggar seeking out their own fortune in all the wrong places. This is truly the case.

To study the Way is to try to become one with it—to forget even a trace of enlightenment. Those who would practice the Way must first whole-heartedly believe in it. Those who believe in it should also believe that they have been in the Way from the very beginning—they should be subject to delusion, illusive thoughts, confused ideas, increase or decrease, and mistaken understandings. Bring into existence belief like this, clarify the Way and practice it accordingly—this is the essence of studying the Way.

The second method of Buddhist training is to cut off the function of discriminating thought and turn away from the road of intellectual understanding. This is the manner in which novices should be guided. Then they will be able to let body and mind fall away, freeing themselves from the dualistic ideas of delusion and enlightenment.

In general there are only a very few who really believe that they are in the Way. If you truly believe it, then you will naturally be able to understand how it functions, as well as the true meaning of delusion and enlightenment. Make an attempt at cutting off your discriminating thoughts; then you will have almost realized the Way.

X. The Direct Realization of the Way

There are many ways to realize enlightenment. One is to train under a true Zen master, listening to their teaching; the other is to do zazen whole-heartedly (with single-mindedness). In the former case you give full play to the discriminating mind, while in the latter, practice and enlightenment are unified. To enter the Way neither of these two methods can be dispensed with—both are necessary.

Everyone is given the same equal gift of body and mind at birth, although their actions in life inevitably vary; some being either weak or strong, some brave, and others cowards. It is through our daily actions of body and mind that we directly become enlightenment. This is known as the realization of the Way.

There is no need to change our existing body and mind, for the direct realization of the Way simply means to become enlightened through training under a true Zen master. To do this is neither to be bound by old views nor is it to create new ones; it is simply realizing the Way.


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